What are My Rights When Facing Mental Illness Discrimination in the Workplace?

Mental illness, like many common physical disabilities, can impact every area of your daily life–including the way you approach your work responsibilities, deal with your coworkers, or handle challenges that you may face in the workplace. However, mental disabilities, like physical ones, are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, which was passed in 1990.

If your employer has 15 or more employees, it cannot discriminate against you because of your mental illness. That means the company cannot refuse to hire you, fail to provide you with advancement or training opportunities, or let you go as a direct result of your mental illness. Furthermore, the company may have to make reasonable accommodations that will allow you to handle your job in spite of your mental illness.

Have you suffered discrimination in the workplace as a result of your mental illness? A lawyer can help go over your rights and pursue the compensation you may deserve for those illegal actions.

Direct vs. Indirect Discrimination

The ADA notes that both direct and indirect discrimination against individuals with mental illnesses is illegal in the workplace. Direct discrimination includes actions that the individual knows result directly from the mental illness. They might include, for example, refusing to allow a mentally ill employee to take advantage of certain training opportunities, or firing a mentally ill employee because of needed accommodations for that mental illness. Indirect discrimination, on the other hand, may not be quite so obvious. It might, for example, include a company policy that discriminates unintentionally against mentally ill individuals, or the employer’s decision to promote individuals based on attributes that have nothing to do with their actual job responsibilities.

Types of Workplace Discrimination Against Mental Illness

Workplace discrimination against mental illness can take several different forms. If you have questions about whether you may have faced discrimination, or what type of discrimination you may have faced, consult an attorney as soon as possible to learn more about your rights and whether you may deserve compensation for the challenges you have faced.

Hiring Discrimination

An employer cannot legally ask about mental illnesses during the hiring or interview process. However, you may need to disclose information about your mental illness before formally accepting a job, since you may require accommodations to help you manage your work or the challenges that come along with your mental illness. If an employer turns you down for a job you had previously been offered after finding out about your mental illness, you may have faced hiring discrimination in the workplace.


Some people do not deal well, or fairly, with signs of mental illness in others. Harassment can take many forms, but at its root, it calls attention to or makes fun of the behaviors that often go hand-in-hand with your mental illness and the challenges you may face every day. An employer or coworker might call you names or use inappropriate language regarding your mental illness, including language that makes you feel uncomfortable or threatened. You might also find someone mimicking your behaviors.

Opportunity Denial

There are some opportunities that you might turn down because of your mental illness, or areas in which you might require accommodation because of the way your mental illness affects you. If, for example, you have severe PTSD that may be triggered by flying, you might choose to turn down the opportunity to attend a conference or event that occurs far enough from home that you would need to fly in. On the other hand, that is a decision that you should have the right to make alongside your employer. Likewise, if you have severe anxiety, and stress makes it worse, you might choose to forego a promotion into a position that would cause you additional stress, but your employer cannot deny you the ability to move up because of depression, anxiety, or other signs of mental illness. If you have been turned down for those opportunities directly because of your mental illness (rather than because of performance issues or other concerns about your work), you may have suffered mental illness discrimination in the workplace.

Termination or Demotion Because of Mental Illness

Your mental illness may cause challenges to crop up that you have to deal with. For example, you may need to miss time at work while adjusting to the side effects from a new medication–or even miss work because of the effects of that mental illness. However, you should not be terminated or demoted because you have to deal with mental health issues. If your employer does terminate you because you needed to take time to deal with mental health concerns, from medication to a day when your mental health was more challenging than usual, you may have faced discrimination.

What Should You Do When Facing Mental Health Discrimination in the Workplace?

Have you faced mental health discrimination in the workplace?

Do you suspect that you may have suffered discrimination in the workplace due to your mental health, but lack the certainty you need to move forward with a claim?

Make sure you protect yourself as soon as possible.

Document any evidence of discrimination.

Sometimes, that may mean saving emails and other office communications. Make sure you save them on a personal storage device or account, rather than just leaving them in your work email, since some employers will act fast to delete your work accounts if they have to dismiss you for any reason. Other times, you may need to write down specific instances of discrimination.

Contact a lawyer as soon as possible.

Whether you simply suspect possible discrimination or know that it has occurred, a lawyer can help you determine your next steps, including how to protect yourself against possible retaliation.

Have You Faced Mental Illness Discrimination in the Workplace?

If you have faced mental illness discrimination in the workplace, an employment lawyer can help you protect your rights and even seek compensation for that discrimination. Contact Asbill Law Group at 916-877-4227 to learn more.